ADLER, Russia -- Are we ahead or behind at the Winter Olympics?
An inquiring Yankee Doodle Downhill Slalom Nation wants to know.
We are ahead! Thursday afternoon, the USA slopestyle ski team swept the podium here at the Sochi 2014. At that moment, America moved into a tie with Norway for most gold medals won -- and most total medals won -- so far at these Games.
No! We are behind! By the end of Thursday's competition, Norway had regained the total medal lead and the USA stood in a tie for second place with the Netherlands -- which won't build much momentum toward matching the performance of four years ago in Vancouver, when the USA accumulated more overall medals (37) than any other country.
We are ahead! Fun new American stars have emerged at these Games -- most especially groovy gold medal snowboarders Sage Kotsenburg, Jamie Anderson and Kaitlyn Farrington.
No! We are behind! Bummer performances by three of America's biggest names who were expected to medal -- snowboarder Shaun White, speed skater Shani Davis and downhill racer Bode Miller -- will make it difficult to play catch-up down the stretch in the medal race.
Ahead! Behind! Ahead! Behind! Which one is it?
My primary answer: Both, at this preliminary juncture. The final answer won't come until a week from Sunday when the Games conclude.
My secondary answer: Is it truly worth caring about all that much?
At first, I was not sure what to make of it when Danny Davis, an American snowboarder who fizzled in the halfpipe event, gave a sardonic post-event summary. But upon reflection, I appreciated his attitude.
"We let America down," Davis said after finishing far out of medal contention, all the while wearing a sort of a grin/smirk on his face, as if to say "Sorry, America. We disgraced our country. Sorry, America. ... Rats."
My take: Davis was unhappy he didn't medal. But his expression showed an awareness that the Olympic Games are not an extension of nuclear weapon superiority.
Once upon a time, they sort of were. Thirty or 40 years ago, there was an obsession about the USA winning the Olympic medal count. It was part of a larger cultural battle. The mission was to show the evil Soviet Union that its socialist/communist system was inferior to the good old American way.
Now, here at the Russian Games of 2014, you can order a Big Mac at the huge McDonald's located inside Olympic Park, or at the four other McDonald's outlets in the greater Sochi metropolitan area. So you'd have to say we won.
The USA has the largest team here. It has the resources to perform well. But are we really concerned if Norway takes more gold? This might merely prove that in the USA, more great athletes still prefer to play football or basketball or baseball or soccer. By contrast, every great athlete in Norway gravitates to winter sports as part of that country's ethos and traditions.
Alan Ashley, the U.S. Olympic Committee chief of sports performance, was speaking about that dynamic the other day.
"In the USA," Ashley said, "to do sports like cross-country and biathlon, which are not as popular as the Super Bowl, takes dedication."
It also takes money, like any other sport. And right now, most of the Winter Games-related sponsorship money is directed at the new age snowboard and skiing events. They're an outgrowth of the ESPN-promoted (and profitable) X Games. American kids have flocked to those extreme activities. It's no shock to find the USA being dominant in those events, or that we still struggle in cross-country or curling.
Every four years, more of those extreme events have been added to the Olympic schedule, which is to the USA's good fortune. And they may bail out the country again this time, given the results to date. Scott Blackmun, the USOC chief executive officer, was asked at a pre-Games media session whether he thought the USA team could match its Vancouver performance. He repeated the answer he always gives.
"At every single games, we don't win some medals that we thought we might, and we lose some medals that we never thought we would have," Blackmun said. "These Games are no different."
Are we ahead or behind? If the USA is trying to be ahead, that's the most important thing. From what I see, the USA is trying. The rest is just a bonus, not worth the angst or anger. Sorry about that, Norway haters.